Oct. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of two Chinese nationals on Tuesday for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl -- a powerful opioid painkiller.
The synthetic drug, Rosenstein said in a statement, was imported from China in large quantities and sold to thousands of customers.
The indictments come as the U.S. government concentrates its resources on fighting what it classifies an opioid epidemic in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that over 20,000 Americans died in 2016 by fentanyl overdoses, a figure it said is rising.
Rosenstein's announcement occured on the same day Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., withdrew his name from consideration as Trump's nominee to be the new chief of the office of National Drug Control Policy.
Marino was accused by lawmakers of leading a legislative effort to reduce the effectiveness of Drug Enforcement Administration attempts to remove opioids from sale.
The U.S. Justice Department charged Xiaobing Yan with distributing "a multitude of drugs, including synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids, as well as synthetic opioids," Rosenstein said. He said Yan manufactured the drugs in large quantities in two Chinese chemical plants, and sold them through U.S. distributors.
The indictment also charged Jian Zhang for manufacturing fentanyl in at least four laboratories in China, and selling it to U.S. customers via the Internet. Zhang and eight others were charged with conspiracy to sell the drugs in at least 11 states, and conspiracy to import the drugs through China and Canada.
While China and the United States do not have an extradition treaty, Rosenstein said the Justice Department is "working closely with our colleagues in China and other countries to stem the flow of illegal fentanyl into the United States."